• Timber is one of Washington state’s most important economic industries. Each spring, bears cause millions of dollars in timber damage.
• As early as the 1940s, reports were cropping up concerning bear-related timber damage to large stands of conifer tree reprod. By the 1950s, the situation had become dire, and foresters were deeply troubled. In some areas, dead and damaged trees approached 73%, with bears mainly targeting smaller diameter (15” or less) trees.
• At that point (circa 1951), it was determined that general hunting was not enough to deal with this problem – what was needed was a more targeted approach.
• A system of permits for bear control were issued to individual timber companies, who then hired professional hunters to control bear numbers on their lands. This permit system has proven to be the best solution to the damage control problem.
• In 1969, the black bear was classified as a game animal throughout Washington state. It was felt that this would allow for the more effective use of the sports hunter in solving bear damage problems.
• In 1973, a special spring bear season was established in bear damage areas to further control bear-caused timber damage with help of sportsmen. “The goal of this new program is to put sportsmen in the role of assisting in alleviation of a game damage problem while increasing their own recreational opportunities.”
• Radio-tracking data has shown that a given bear normally returns to same location each spring. Thus, the probability of catching a bear causing tree damage is greatly increased by only taking bears found within those damaged timber stands.
• The need to manage black bears has not disappeared – especially with increasing habitat loss due to expanding human populations and urbanization of the landscape.
• Damage control needs to be done one way or another. If a hunter removes a problem bear, it fills a freezer. If a state agency has to remove a problem bear, it ends up in a landfill. Wouldn’t you rather see that bear utilized as opposed to wasted?
• The Commission’s legal mandate is “to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage fish and wildlife and to provide fishing and hunting opportunities.” Issuing spring black bear permits to control bear-caused timber damage would be in continued support of that mandate. After all, the spring bear season was originally enacted “to put sportsmen in the role of assisting in alleviation of a game damage problem while increasing their own recreational opportunities.”
Here are some of the key takeaways for this new CR 102 for the timber damage hunt proposed by WDFW.
On March 18, 2023, the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted in response to a rulemaking petition to initiate rulemaking to amend WAC 220-440-210 Black bear timber damage with a proposal to initiate rulemaking on Black Bear Timber Damage. Black bear timber damage removal permits are a tool to assist landowners with removal of bears causing timber damage in the spring of the year. Washington State black bear population is robust and an annual spring permitting process for bear removals is sustainable. WDFW is proposing a rule that includes a process for application for permits and for review and issuance of permits. The proposed rule includes a prohibition on the harvest of offspring and females with offspring that would minimize the potential of orphaning cubs
- The purpose of the black bear timber damage permit is to reduce damage to commercial timber caused by black bears peeling and consuming tree parts resulting in permanent damage or death to the tree. A black bear timber damage permit allows a person to remove one or more black bears as conditioned on the permit. This section does not apply to federal employees and agents while acting in their official capacities for the purpose of protecting private property.
Definitions for the proposal:
- "Commercial timber" means trees that are grown for wood or paper product production where the land for growing is designated as forestland under RCW 84.33.130,
- "Timber damage" means there is black bear damage evidence on private commercial timber from springtime of the current calendar year.
- "Removal" means the act of killing one or more black bears.
- "Use of bait" means the use of a substance placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, scattered, or otherwise used for the purpose of attracting black bears to an area where one or more persons hunt or intend to hunt them. Bait does not include supplemental feeding in prior years.
- "Supplemental feeding" means the establishment and operation of black bear feeding stations, solely to prevent damage to commercial timber.
- "Use of dogs" means the use of one or more dogs for hunting under a black bear timber damage permit, or the possession of any dog while in the field under such permit.
- "Designated hunter" means a person who is named in a permit to hunt a black bear on behalf of the timber owner.
Conditions of the permit
- Permittees and designated hunters must only use the lawful methods and implements allowed for hunting black bears in a general bear season.
- Black bears retained for personal use under a permit count toward the annual black bear bag limit.
- Black bears accompanied by cub(s) shall not be removed.
- The use of bait or use of dogs in exercising the timber damage permit is prohibited.
- A black bear timber permit does not authorize trespass.
- The permit is not valid on state or federally owned lands.
- Supplemental feeding must cease, and all visible feed on the ground or in containers must be removed within the permit's designated damage hunt area boundary no later than January 1st of the permit year.
- If the permit's designated damage hunt area is in a GMU located in grizzly bear recovery areas, as identified by the department, permittees and designated hunters must carry proof of successfully completing the annual WDFW online bear identification test or equivalent test from another state.
- Permittees and designated hunters must be identified on, and possess the black bear timber damage permit, or a true copy of the valid permit at all times and in places that black bears are being hunted.
- Removals must be reported within 24 hours of taking a bear in accordance with the procedures established in the permit.
- An access or other fee may not be charged to any designated hunter using a bear timber damage permit. Requiring a fully refundable key return deposit is not prohibited.
- A black bear timber damage permit is only valid when signed by the permittee, any designated hunter, and the department permitting representative. Any designated hunter named in the permit must also sign the permit in order to hunt under the permit.
- The black bear timber damage permit belongs to the state of Washington and may not be transferred or sold.
- A violation of any condition of the permit may result in revocation of the permit and may render the permittee(s) ineligible for future black bear timber permits as determined by the department.
- Based upon WDFW's evaluation of the permit application materials and local environmental conditions, the department may establish permit-specific conditions in individual permits including, but not limited to: The time, manner, and place the permit is valid to remove one or more black bears; The identity of the designated hunters permitted to hunt under the permit; Requirements for final disposition of the black bear carcass, as a whole or any black bear parts; The number of black bears that can be removed under the permit; and Procedures for reporting of any removals, including submission of biological samples and reporting documents.
How to apply for the timber damage hunt:
- An applicant must complete and submit an application using the current application form to the department's wildlife conflict section manager (or designee)
- A complete permit application package must contain the following: Name, age, phone, and email for the applicant. List the timber owner and relationship of the applicant to the timber owner.
- Name, contact information for any proposed designated hunters and a signed agreement that if a permit is issued, the designated hunter would be acting under the direction of and on the applicant's behalf.
- Photos of current timber damage from the site where the permit is being requested; GPS coordinates for the documented timber damage on the site; A map denoting the proposed permit area, the relative locations of documented timber damage, and the distance(s) and direction(s) to any known continuing supplemental bear feeding sites; An attestation that supplemental feeding has not occurred within the area that the applicant is requesting to hunt within since January 1st of the current year, and that no feeding is occurring within the proposed permit boundary; and Any additional information that WDFW determines is necessary to make the required determinations in subsection (5) of this section and to determine appropriate individual permit conditions under subsection (3)(c) of this section.
- The applicant must contact the WDFW wildlife conflict specialist at the appropriate geographic department regional office to arrange for property access for a department representative to visit the site and verify timber damage.
- The applicant may provide additional supporting information as to the extent of damage if the department proposes restrictions on a requested permit location or timing.
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